In this weekly series, Rahul Desai lists 50 of Hindi cinema’s favourite “third wheels” – that is, memorable characters whose roles are little more than fleeting cameos and little less than supporting turns – since 1990. There will be no particular order: just a colourful recollection of emblematic faces who’ve left us craving for more.
Outside of the iconic Andaz Apna Apna and irreverent David Dhawan-Govinda comedies, Vijay Reddy’s goofball crime caper, Hum Hain Kamaal Ke, still holds a special place in the memories of many Bollywood enthusiasts who grew up in the 1990s. The funny thing about this country is that if it were to come out today, Kader Khan and Anupam Kher as the freakishly fluky deaf-and-blind duo, Pitamber-Nilamber, might have offended a gamut of younger sentiments.
But back in 1993, HHKK represented the kind of innocent and naïve slapstick humour that was still a fair distance from being viewed as a telling device of social commentary in post-liberalization India. It was one of the earliest spoofs I had watched on the kind of narratively crass “Bollywood” genre it occupied. Moreover, it hasn’t been often we’ve come across an entire Hindi film based on the quirky adventures of two middle-aged Indian actors, who were rarely ever more than villainous, fatherly or comical stereotypes in mainstream cinema.
Perhaps the main reason was the endearing silliness of its characters. None more so than the unforgettable Inspector Ghorpade – “jiske saamne achhe achhe gir pade!” Sadashiv Amrapurkar, too, like Khan and Kher, was another veteran rarely afforded the luxury of carrying a movie. As the bumbling Ghorpade – husband of the unapologetically Maharastrian Lado (Aruna Irani) and hassled chaser of the two differently abled clowns – Amrapurkar serves up one of India’s first versions of the legendary Peter Sellers avatar, “Pink Panther” Inspector Clouseau. There deserved to be a spin-off series on the life of Ghorpade, who, like the obliviously incompetent Clouseau and exasperated Chief Inspector Dreyfus, even deflects the jealous resentment of his top-cop boss and father-in-law (played by another unsung 1990s “third wheel,” Anjan Srivastav).
From eating accidental “shampoo omelettes” to being a cross-dressing “mistress of disguise” (for a shape-shifting career character artiste, he was surprisingly – and ominously – androgynous) sashaying seductively in a peppy stage performance, the versatile Amrapurkar has a blast caricaturing one of Indian cinema’s most judged vocations. For once, the pan-India actor, who eventually appeared in more than 300 films, provided light-hearted “Hindi” entertainment at the cost of the (middle-class Mumbai) culture he represented.
Ten years after he first broke through as the menacing don-politician in Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya, and two years after he won Filmfare’s first ever Best Villain award for his disturbingly dark turn as the eunuch pimp of Sadak, Amrapurkar turned on the funny with the twin law-enforcement caricatures of Ghorpade and Inspector Pyare Mohan (Aankhen) in the same year. His career, till these films at least, followed a similar pattern to that of Anupam Kher’s.
Yet, perhaps because he occupied a lesser era of Hindi cinema – imagine the variety of middle-Indian roles he’d get from independent directors in 2018 – Amrapurkar didn’t scale the heights even his mainstream contemporary Nana Patekar did. Today, he might have been right up there with the likes of Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pankaj Tripathi. I’ll blame this tragic lack of parallel star power on the shortsighted non-franchising of ‘Purple Panther’ Ghorpade.
It might be my nostalgia speaking, but the sight of an on-screen character foaming at the mouth – for whatever life-defying reason – has never been the same after watching Ghorpade struggling to chew on Lado’s chemically improbable shampoo omelette after she, of course, mistakes a bowl of yellow shampoo for egg yolk.